Friday Five: Big Godbeat news, Billy Graham's casket, 'sit and shiver,' Oprah talks to God and more

At long last, the New York Times has hired its new national faith and values correspondent: Elizabeth Dias, Time magazine's award-winning religion and politics writer.

Early last year, the Times announced that it was "seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country."

But one aspect of the national newspaper's search for a journalist to join veteran national religion writer Laurie Goodstein on the Godbeat struck some observers -- including GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly -- as extremely odd: The Times said, "You won't need to be an expert in religious doctrine."

Wait, what!?

But in hiring Dias, the Times got a skilled, respected journalist who -- as the paper's news release notes -- has an undergraduate degree in theology from Wheaton College and a master’s in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. (At Wheaton, Dias was a classmate of Sarah Pulliam Bailey, one of the Washington Post's national religion writers.)

Here at GetReligion, we frequently have praised Dias' exceptional work. We offer our heartfelt congratulations on her awesome new gig!

But now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Nearly two decades ago, when I covered Oklahoma's prison system for The Oklahoman, I did a front-page feature on state penitentiary inmates obtaining dignity in death at a cemetery nicknamed "Peckerwood Hill."

I was reminded of that story when I read the Charlotte Observer's fine feature this week on "The story behind Billy Graham’s casket and the prison inmates who made it." Anna Douglas' piece explains how inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary — better known as "Angola" — came to make Graham's pine plywood casket. 

2. Most popular GetReligion post: My post on The Associated Press' laugh-or-cry correction on "sit and shiver" occupies the No. 1 spot this week.

As you might have heard, the global wire service got a little -- OK, a whole lot -- confused about the Jewish practice of "sitting shiva."

If you missed what all the hubbub is about, by all means, read our original post.

3. Guilt folder fodder (and more): Apparently, Vice President Mike Pence isn't the only potential future presidential candidate who talks to God.

Two weeks ago, Friday Five noted how ABC News' "The View" likened Pence talking to Jesus to "mental illness."

Now, People magazine reports:

There’s only one thing that could make Oprah Winfrey run for president in 2020.
Amid calls for her to consider a run for the White House -- from fans as well as her closest friends -- “I went into prayer,” she tells PEOPLE in the magazine’s new cover story. “ ‘God, if you think I’m supposed to run, you gotta tell me, and it has to be so clear that not even I can miss it.’ And I haven’t gotten that.”

Hmmmmm.

4. Shameless plug: “Quite simply, millions of abuse survivors are fed up with the church protecting abusers while shaming the victims," Jimmy Hinton told me.

I did a Christian Chronicle interview with Hinton -- who reported his own father to police after learning the longtime preacher was a pedophile -- about the #ChurchToo movement.

Check out the story and find links to an expanded interview and editorial.

5. Final thought: The Tennessean's religion writer, Holly Meyer, reports that conservatives say tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter are censoring their online posts, and they want it to stop. 

In unrelated (maybe) happenings, it apparently is not fake news that Facebook has flagged the Christian satire website The Babylon Bee for inaccurate reporting.

Thank you, Facebook, for coming to the rescue. Otherwise, news consumers of sound mind might actually believe that CNN "purchased an industrial-sized washing machine to help its journalists and news anchors spin the news before publication."

Heaven help us.

Happy Friday, everybody! Enjoy the weekend!

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